Faith, Worship & Life

July 9, 2014

Caleb

Filed under: Family,Philosophy,Scriptural Theology,Worship — Faith, Worship & Life @ 9:44 pm

Several months ago my family received news this past March, concerning our unborn child. He has a condition known as anencephaly. This is a fatal condition of spina bifida, wherein the baby has only a brain stem. Often this condition is accompanied by another condition known as acrania, wherein the cranium in only partially formed. Our baby boy, Caleb, appears to have both. While we have sent out two prayer letters concerning our situation, we have continued to encounter some questions that we feel are better addressed in another forum, such as this blog post. Please feel free to contact us with either comments or more questions.

Personal Space

One question we have received concerns our personal space, specifically whether we are keeping our situation private. We have chosen to embrace the situation that has befallen us publically, as worship and as witness to God’s grace. We have been “strategic” in distilling our story, because we want the situation to retain a since of dignity and gravitas in its essence. Likewise, we want to respect other people having to receive and process something of this magnitude. In other words, despite our living in the Age of Facebook, we believe this is not status update material. We appreciate any manner of care and concern offered to us, even if some comments from time to time are less than perfect.  We are less concerned with perfection than we are with actual real, live, human contact. In this case the perfect could become the enemy of the good. So, please feel free to talk with us about our situation. Yes, public prayer listings are just fine with us. Also, be forewarned that we take offers of help at face value!

Our Other Kids

Another question we have received has been if or how we have told our kids. Our kids are 8, 6, and 4 years old, all of whom have given their hearts and minds to Jesus. The Holy Spirit’s works of grace in their lives are manifold. We are both proud and grateful. It has been our goal from their infancies to live our faith openly with them and to raise them as full members of our families with growth in maturity-appropriate responsibility. So, we told them about Caleb and his deformity the night we found out, even showing them his sonogram pictures. Together we have all wept and prayed since then. They have been incredible troopers, accepting the gravity of the situation but also holding out for the legitimate possibility that God might choose to heal him. Annesley, our 8 year old has written two letters in Caleb’s prayer journal. (We have them for all of our children.) Below are Annesley’s two letters:

Dear Caleb,

 I am your big sister. I cannot wait until I see you. I hope you like our family while you are with us. Our family members are your other sister Amie, your brother Alister, me, and Mama, and Daddy. You are a very special boy. Now I have two brothers!

Your big sister,

Annesley

            —————

 Dear God,

Thank you for Caleb. Even though he might be creepy, he is still a part of us. Please keep him alive as long as you can. It took a big turn. I was excited that we would have a cute little baby to play with, but now. We love him even now. Please heal him.

Caleb’s sister who loves you and him,

Annesley

Job’s Friends

Some have wondered whether we have encountered Job’s friends out there. We have yet to encounter anyone that has been self-righteous or downright mean, as nearly everyone we have encountered has meant well. There have been some comments with which we have met with less theological agreement than others. We are not exactly sure of how God is using His sovereignty in our situation, but if we, as the pro-lifers that we are, are going to credibly claim Psalm 139:13-16, then how can we fail to claim this regarding Caleb? While much of Caleb’s life and situation will remain a mystery on this side of Eternity, we do know that Caleb is made in the image of God and as such is a full human person. We also know that until Jesus returns, so long as we are on this side of Eternity, though we can and do taste a bit of the full redemption to come in the Spirit-filled life, we will, nonetheless, continue to live in a fallen, broken creation. So, this is the death of our son, due to some incomprehensible mystery from no fault of his own; God is not grooming little baby angel-cherubs for His heavenly rose garden. God is grooming us to offer grace and truth to one another in Christ, as we walk this wilderness together until we land on that happy shore of Heaven.

Job’s Wife

Some have wondered if we are angry with God. We are sad—what kind of birthday cake would Caleb have wanted for his third birthday? At times we are frustrated—Caleb is “perfect” from the chin down and is even the physically strongest child in utero for Rebekah to date. Even so, neither do we continue in anger with God, nor do we feel that God has committed an injustice with us. Caleb has three beautiful older siblings who are nearly ideal in physical and emotional health. Is that fair? We don’t want fair; we want mercy from His grace. God owes us nothing; we owe Him everything in the cross of Jesus.

A few have even demanded that we be angry with God, get in touch with that anger, and even curse Him. So, while we have not encountered as many of Job’s friends as we has expected, we have encountered Job’s wife. As we have just said, we have been sad, deeply sad. We have been frustrated. We have not suppressed these emotions; we have also not given these emotions free reign either. There are many places in this world that we would like to visit, but adrift in an ocean of subjectivism in the midst of Hurricane Emotion is not one of them. In the midst of this storm we have been anchoring ourselves to Jesus by our worship. So, we have been confessing our sorrows and His Word and truth simultaneously. This is the pattern for many of the Psalms, such as Psalm 13.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I take counsel in my soul

            and have sorrow in my heart all the day?

How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;

            light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,

lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”

            lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;

            my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.

I will sing to the Lord,

            because he has dealt bountifully with me. (ESV)

God and Evil

This brings us to the question of how this situation has affected our faith. One thing is certain is that we have been affected, which is to also say that our faith has been affected. One more thing that is also certain is that His grace alone is empowering us to navigate this situation. We are normal, plain folks, who are believing, trusting, and following the Lord—who are living by faith. So, in one sense this is stretching us and growing us—both in our love for the Lord and in our compassion for others.

However, there is another more shadowy side of this question that is often meant—how can a God who is both perfectly good and perfectly powerful allow evil like to this to happen? It is an ancient question, some form of which has been posed by philosophers, such as J.L. Mackie, and plebes alike. It is especially disconcerting for charismatic folks like us, who strongly emphasize God’s miracle-working power is alive and well today.

While a full-fledged response will not be put forth in this moment, a brief response can be offered. Let us begin considering this question non-traditionally, borrowing from Ravi Zacharias. Traditionally, it has been felt and wrestled with and succumbed to from the human side. However, beginning from the divine side might be more helpful and constructive. This problem—the problem of evil—calls into question God’s goodness, power, and ultimately His existence. So, let’s pretend that God doesn’t exist and the Darwinian Naturalists are correct. This means that chance and randomness are the governing cosmic “order.” If this is so, then meaning in life is the result of chance and randomness. This then means that the terms “good” and “evil” are also random. Randomness is the quintessential indicator of meaninglessness. Thus, any event in life is meaningless—good or evil—is devoid of meaning and are useless descriptors of anything. This would include Caleb’s situation. This would include any hurt, any pain, any joy, any happiness. Is this really the world in which any of us live? And so, rather than detracting from God’s credibility, the reality of evil demands the reality of a perfectly good and all-powerful God. In Jesus Christ, the One who took upon Himself the sin of the world, we have a God of perfect love, who will one day bring full redemption to our fallen and broken world.

December 24, 2013

Muddy Faith

          The allure of the Robertson family seems to be something that is as elusive to many of us as ducks are to less-than-average hunters—family wholesomeness, moral clarity and dirt-dirtiness—the God-fearing life of simplicity. The responses to the controversy from many Christians are a fine peak behind the duck blind of Evangelical Christianity, revealing both the muddiness of faith in the real world and our vibrancy.

Free Speech

We have long valued the First Amendment, at least the religious freedom clauses. We have had a rather tenuous relationship with “freedom of speech,” though. Crosses in urine and flag burning have long sparked our ire over their indecent and purposefully-offensive nature. Yet in harmony with the seasonal choral arraignment of “Merry CHRISTmas” at Wal-Mart check-out lines, we have sung “Let Phil Speak!” Many of us have gotten REALLY SERIOUS about this free-speech thingy by upping the ante with ALL-CAPS on our Facebook posts.

Whatever the motivation behind our embrace of free-speech, we are beginning to recognize that it is both necessary and messy. Phil is entitled to express his religious beliefs concerning marriage, which are the same as Time’s Person of the Year. However, has Phil indeed suffered violation of his freedom of speech? If the answer is yes, then what is to be made of A&E’s freedom of speech, who holds a strong affinity for the LGBT community? We should honorably and respectfully acknowledge A&E’s authority over their own programming, while remembering that we firmly retain the right to decline to financially support A&E or their own brand of Duck Dynasty products and ask others to do the same.

And yet precisely because free-speech is vital to a free-society it is important to also recognize that this dust-up has not taken place in a cultural vacuum. We have seen the brilliance of the Left, particularly the gay political lobby, in their commandeering of the public square. Public speech and decorum are heavily influenced by public legitimization, and recent historic court victories have afforded the gay political lobby much momentum to define the public marriage debate in large part by defining the manner of publically-acceptable speech. Whatever we think of Phil’s opinions regarding marriage, we must not seek public victories for our ideas through speech sequestration.

Manner of Speech

Similarly some, while agreeing with the nature of Phil’s opinion regarding marriage, some have critiqued him on his manner of “crude” expression. Given the nature of American Evangelicalism, this is especially interesting. Historically, Evangelicals have preached against sin from revivalist tents and have fought against any number of social ills on street corners. Public offensiveness is inherent to the nature of Evangelicalism because change is offensive to human nature—whether of a liberal-statist bent or a conservative bent. We tend to capture this curious tension by being “prophetic” (read purposefully offensive) to certain types and expressions of people with whom we disagree, while handling others with kid-gloves. Both Postmodern and Conservative Evangelicals share this tendency.

To be sure this tension is inherent in the New Testament, Itself. Paul teaches us to season our speech with grace towards unbelievers (Col 4:6), while also practicing gracious public disagreement with Peter (Gal 2:14). Yet, Paul considered any good thing to be skubballa compared to knowing Christ (Phil 3:8). (Skubballa is a Greek word for such things as those which are caught in septic tanks and sewers.) While Jesus publically turned over tables and chairs (John 2:13-22), He also expressed desire not to offend for the sake of offense (Matt 17:27) and advised believers to learn prudence (i.e. relational wisdom, Matt 10:16).

Offensiveness is inherent in Truth. This is particularly so in a culture that has striven to remove any means of failure and pain and that has striven to pursue any means of pleasure and reward any measure of attempt as success. Put differently Truth is offensive because it is painful for people that have not been disciplined in their minds. And yet still, believers across the Evangelical spectrum have been offensive because this is easier than working with their opponents as people to be respected. And yet still further, many other believers have opted for a grace, which instead of covering over sin, conceals a latent fear of rejection.

Whatever else may be said of Phil’s crudeness, particularly regarding his appeal to body parts, most have failed to recognize this for what it is: a quite legitimate appeal to Natural Law—the divine intention for marriage is reflected in the design of human bodies. It is easy to allow substance to be obscured by concern for decorum. And yet one of the sins of our postmodern culture, which has also infected Evangelicalism, has been the demise of the creation and appreciation of beauty. Failing to appreciate beauty is the failure to appreciate details and design. It is the wolf of egotistic-laziness in the sheep-skins of theology and philosophy. We would do well to be concerned for Truth and Goodness and Beauty, because we are called to be concerned for the world that lies outside of our subjective experiences.

Cultural Engagement

Some have considered this dust-up to be another hot-headed attempt by Evangelicals to fight a wrong-headed culture war. Christians ought to be about the business of being the Church together, instead of compelling non-Christians to be anything other than what they are—non-Christians-with-non-Christian-value-systems. Put differently the critique here is over too much identity as an American and too little identity as a Christian.

One of the questions we will need to consider is what we mean when we sing, “God Bless America,” as our culture becomes increasingly both pagan and statist. Are we willing to honestly submit our red-blooded nature to the blood of Christ, or are we to mindlessly pursue red-meat from emotional preachers of Christ and culture? It is also true that laws don’t change the heart.

However, I wonder if these same Evangelicals would have advised William Wilberforce to pursue church work over work in the Parliament? I wonder what they would have said to Martin Luther King, Jr.? His Letter from a Birmingham Jail is one of the finest philosophical defenses of Christian engagement in the secular political sphere. While it is true that laws don’t change the human heart, they do express cultural sentiment and certainly influence cultural direction, necessitating intentional and unintentional consequences. (i.e. Combating the sex trade is not helped in the least by legitimization of prostitution.) Believing that certain standards of morality are too high for pagans borders on arrogance, particularly in a day when many Christians fall short of the same standards. I have personally benefited from the discipline and loyalty flowing from the hearts of duty of my non-Christian friends in the military, which has tended to be more authentic than that of my Christian friends.

Cultural Activity

Similarly, some have expressed frustration if not anger at the loud ruckus over Phil’s suspension, but passivity regarding other types of social injustices. How many Facebook posts and memes were made over the recent Congressional budget deal or persecution of Christians in the Muslim world as this year’s Christmas season approaches?

It is interesting that one of the bright spots of this controversy is that messing with a reality TV hero reveals that Evangelicals are not completely apathetic regarding the wider world. For a number of reasons passivity has come to characterize Evangelical Christianity in theology and practice. We hire preachers to be spiritual for us and then compare them with those who can professionally stir our emotions, whether in sermon or song. My own beloved Wesleyans across the Methodist-holiness spectrum have embraced the religion of the heart, while discarding the life of the mind. What has been odd for me has been praying for God to raise up believers of influence for the media. We live in an entertainment culture, and these people need to be reached. And yet, how many of the people that we watch on TV are actually watching TV, when we watch them? As Dr. Steve Davis has noted, except for Al Bundy or Homer Simpson, our TV heroes are busy being heroes—not couch potatoes.

However, several things should be acknowledged. First, it is good that contemporary Evangelicals have taken an active interest in some feature of the wider world that actually concerns practical concrete life in the wider world. Secondly, these Evangelicals have shown a united concern for both personal and social righteousness. Thirdly, as I pointed out above, this issue at hand is not unimportant, as it is essentially tied to the larger battle for dominion over the market place of ideas.

Conclusion

This issue is interesting to me, because it reveals how muddy faith in the real world, where real people live, work and play should be and that we are a living bunch. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” As Christians, we were born again for adversity in active love that calls for prudence.

February 5, 2013

The Zing of the Ring

Filed under: Natural Law,Philosophy,Relational Wisdom,Scriptural Theology — Faith, Worship & Life @ 3:53 am
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Warning: The material below discusses adult material that is the everyday property of teen culture.

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Shortly after soft porn fest that was last Sunday’s Beyonce’s and “Two Broke Girls’” Super Bowl half-time show, my three year old daughter left her bedroom to ask me to pray for her and her sister before going to sleep. Such a disjunction is not exactly dreamy. I eagerly prayed over them that God would bless them with holiness of heart and life.

Certainly, the mechanics of Beyonce’s show were dynamic. The lights and flash, glitz and glam were stunning. Her voice was and is matched only by her beauty. And, as far as Super Bowl half-time shows are concerned, there were no “wardrobe malfunctions.”

Herein lies part of the problem—there wasn’t much wardrobe to actually malfunction. Yesteryear people once said that such things left little to the imagination. The reverse happened here, as Beyonce & Co. grinded their rears. Every male for a moment became that geek paired with the vixen in an earlier sultry commercial, which is what made her closing line so stark: “If you liked it, then you should’ve put a ring on it.” The message that sex is reserved for relational commitment is certainly a welcome improvement in our hook-up culture.

Unfortunately, it’s a Kleenex floating in the gutter. How is commitment defined?  Aiming really high, does an engagement ring really seal the deal? Or is it merely a ticket to score a Saturday night slam dunk fest? The geeks and Beyonces of the world define “commitment” a bit differently.

Unfortunately, the freedom-to-love-who-you-wish was found to be in an illicit affair with the freedom-to-love-how-you-wish. Beyonce’s performance occurred on Boy Scout Sunday, which ironically is the Sunday before their national council will potentially render a landmark decision regarding gay Scouts and Scoutmasters.

As we continue to do our duty to bod and booty, the country is increasingly waking up to the “morning after.” What would Betty Friedan make of the contemporary feminist movement begging high-powered men for sex? And is this not what happened, when Sandra Fluke testified before Congress on the need for the government to dole out contraceptives? While American men became Al Bundy long ago, American women are now Peg—“empowered” to shimmy for sex and then demand that men respect them.

God made sex, declaring it good. He put His ring on it, designing it with boundaries: monogamous-heterosexual-life-long marriage. If people don’t respect objective truth, however, what makes us think they will respect my subjective truth that cuts against their grind?

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January 27, 2013

After America, Before the Cross

In a series of essays Mark Steyn praises the idea of classical America as the brightest son of the English way of life. Whether Canada, Australia, and New Zealand or Hong Kong and Singapore, the world has been blessed by such concepts as the Rule of Law under a common constitution and the free market. English classical liberty has brought more prosperity to more people than any other system in history. However, the world wider than the English Common Wealth (ECW) is destabilizing, as the Anglo world is metastasizing from the cancer of socialism. Following WWII the ECW could afford to follow the rest of Europe into the abyss of Big Government, because the presence of America’s Big Military. What happens, though, when America follows the ECW and there is no benign stabilizing arm for Big Liberty? Arrayed in wit, charm and humor, Steyn issues a stern warning of dystopia: We are not heading for total societal collapse, we may already be there.

Contrary to what I initially thought prior to reading this book, Steyn’s main concerns are not the loss of First World creature comforts, nor the loss of American prestige per se, which secure First World creature comforts. In a word he does not suffer from “affluenza.” Rather, his barbs are pointed directly at the cause of “affluenza,” namely the belief that liberty is about being entitled to any such creature comforts. My favorite line, which he repeats several times is, “It’s not so much about the waste of money as about the waste of people.” Whether the eradication of consequences for personal choices, or whether the alleviation of daily problems to solve, socialism destroys the soul because it relieves people of struggle that is necessary for growth.

Secular-Progressivism has successfully managed to enshrine libertinism as the most important, if not only, gloss for liberty in the Western political lexicon:

“The wreckage is impressive. The Sexual Revolution was well-named: it was a revolt not  just against sexual norms but against the institutions and values they supported; it was part of an assault against any alternatives to government, civic or moral” (233).

The most poignant, if not ironic, image he invokes in this regard is the typical panda bear in captivity. Out of a well-intentioned concern to preserve the precious panda bear, zoos take nearly all stress out of its existence. However, while languishing in apathy birthed from having no purpose in life, it has been relieved of any libido.

Having addressed the intellectual, decadent sloth of postmodernism and multiculturalism, Steyn’s After America could just as well have been adapted to After Western Christianity. European state churches have long ago atrophied. The American Mainline almost by definition does not reproduce. Many Evangelicals no longer consider truth in objective or absolute terms, but feel no qualms about making absolute moral pronouncements on issues that are wider than their individual communities. In all groups struggle is something that is to be avoided or eradicated.

Fortunately, unlike the political scenario Steyn paints in After America, the global Church’s scenario is rosy. The international Evangelicals, which are increasingly located in the Southern Hemisphere, are steadfastly orthodox and committed to the authority of the Scriptures. They are fiercely evangelistic and socially conservative. And, thankfully, they are sending missionaries to us. The global Church’s scenario is rosy in large part because it is the antithesis of the atrophied Western man that Steyn lambasts.

Steyn is not writing to preserve America so much as a place than as an idea. Both Secular-Progressivism and classical English libertarianism represent “America.” Similarly, “postmodern” and “orthodox” both represent Evangelical Christianity today. I think that After America can help bring us before the cross and embrace personal struggle as an essential feature of the salvation that Jesus offers.

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January 24, 2013

What Is in Me?

Filed under: Natural Law,Relational Wisdom,Scriptural Theology — Faith, Worship & Life @ 3:26 am
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Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.–John 2:23-25

John’s commentary on Jesus’s “base” was less than complementary. However, these are the same folks who will “unfriend” Jesus and “like” Barabbas in John 18:40. If Jesus “knew what was in Man” yesterday, it’s a pretty safe bet that He knows what is in me today. He has been following my “heart-feed” for a long time now.

Do I know what is in me? I know a lot about what is in other people. I know a lot about how I would like others to see me. I know a lot about my desires. I know a lot about me, but do I really know what is in me? Ignorance, clothing, status, self-esteem and religion can shield me from what is in me for only so long. Eventually, what is in me will give form and deform knowledge, swank and faith. Will I choose to acknowledge what is in me?

Sin is in me. Yet, even this word is a debilitating distortion of the sickness of my soul. Like the recent Congressional findings in the Benghazi fiasco—the system failed but no one is responsible. Or like American legalese, which is to say bureaucratic envelope pushing—how much can I get away with? Sin is certainly violation of God’s Moral Law, and certainly has social implications. However, Sin also bent my soul out of kilter; all of my moorings and activities likewise bend to the arc of my sin-bent soul.

Total-depravity then is not so much as every cell of my body is that of Jeffrey Dahmer’s, as that every desire and activity of my soul is to one degree or another bent away from God.

This is far more dangerous. So, yes, I need to be forgiven, but I also need to be re-wired. When Jesus saved me, He brought all of me into His garage—even all of my sin-bent desires and activities.  I may wish that I could return to earlier times in my life with the holiness the Spirit of God has until now wrought in my soul. Where would I be today, if yesterday I was like I am today? This is spoken out of godly shame. I must also remember to rejoice in God’s very real, very tangible Salvation. His forgiveness and transformation are real. Despite what remains in me, I know Who is in me, and I entrust me to Him.

On Prudence

Filed under: Relational Wisdom,Scriptural Theology — Faith, Worship & Life @ 3:24 am

Prudence is relational wisdom. Today, this type of wisdom is equated with pop-psychology and the study of romance. However, prudence has an honored intellectual history within Western Civilization, which dates back to at least Aristotle. He grounded his political philosophy on the maxim, “Man is a political animal.” Man does not live alone but in community. Wisdom is, therefore, needed to govern the intricacy of this web on many levels from personal relationships to governmental structures. The study of this is what Aristotle called politics. The primary word for wisdom in the Old Testament is hokhmah. However, sekhel is the word for prudence, and an interesting place it is is used in the Old Testament is in Daniel 12:3. Soul winners are called producers of prudence. In the New Testament Jesus instructs his disciples, who are being sent out to hostile areas with the Gospel, to “be as wise as serpents, but as innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). The word used for “wise” is not sophia, but phronomos–relational wisdom. A major theme in Jane Austen’s novels is prudence, where she underscores the folly of underestimating human nature amidst social structures.

Returning to our own day the height of folly is found in the very concept of a social “structure.” Prudence is required to mediate between postmodern people, who regard truth as the product of social convention and the Lord of Creation, who is Truth and has embedded His ways in the intricacies of Creation’s designs.

A Sedulous Hymn to the Holy Spirit

Filed under: Poetry,Scriptural Theology — Faith, Worship & Life @ 3:03 am
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1. Lift we our voices now in praise of the One,
          Jaunting from the Father over Creation’s generation.
    Likeness of God in humanity broken,
          Jewel of His crown may we become in Your regeneration.
    Lovely is Your Torah in liberation,
          Joyous are your souls re-fashioned in our sanctification.
2. Immersing our souls in Your cleansing flood,
          Emerged we from the waters dripping in holy red imputation.
    Illusion of purity have You wrought in blood?
          Elision is not our lone trust, but righteous impartation.
    Inveterate, the shame of sin’s clinging mud,
          Enthralling, forgiveness forged in Holy inebriation.
3. Grope we about in sun so bright, as though at midnight,
          Springing forth from One, Father and Son, glaring restoration.
    Grace anointing flight, search our hearts with daylight,
          Story divine, Your lantern of design, apt amelioration.
    Good is our Gospel fight in Your town’s twilight,
          Salacious, that city of sin, evangel of illumination.
4. Hydrate, today, our souls for Your anointed strolls,
          Undertake we the toils for Your human spoils, evangelization.
    Haunts from stings of sins past so daunting, the devil’s scrolls,
          Usury of sin so demonic; our Holy Tonic: prostration.
    Hot from their tolls of marching up the world’s wily knolls,
          Untoward are our comfort troughs, we need Your fiery ministration.
5. Thunder we in our praise of Thee, Your beneficiary,
          Showering us with favor and power and thus: holy satiation.
    Tide of time doth You chime, Divine Auxiliary,
          Son of Sin in Your sovereign pen: holy administration.
    Tortuous is the narrow road in human history,
          Splendorous is Your sturdy Presence: our shepherded salvation.

March 29, 2010

Why?

Filed under: Book Review,Ministry — Faith, Worship & Life @ 3:56 am

Tonight, I’m writing from Big Sky country: Texas. Specifically, I’m in San Antonio, TX and loving it. No, my trip has not been flawless, even scary a bit at times. Upon de-planing in San Antonio, I proceeded to claim my baggage and my previously-rented rental car.

What to my wondering eyes should appear, but a non-existent rental company and bunches of fear. Keeping my cool, I waited for my luggage to arrive, and I proceeded to the desk, WHERE MY RENTAL COMPANY WAS SUPPOSED TO BE IN OPERATION but was not. There was only a sign directing me to take a certain shuttle bus. But to where? Were the keys simply going to magically appear from the heavens? So, I prayed and attempted to keep cool. I began to see visions of myself reliving Tom Hank’s role in Terminal. Yet, after three attempts to actually board the instructed shuttle and finally making it, the shuttle made its way to the rental car lot … and to a fully operational rental car service shop. The clerks ran a great operation. Though my bags weighed heavy upon me, my anxiety no longer did. Whew!

So, why am I doing this, why the “needless” time and energy spent on so much trouble. For those of you who may not know, I’m interviewing for a student slot in a graduate marriage and family therapy program at St. Mary’s University. When I attept to explain my vocational desires, I get a few “Wow!!!!s.” Mostly, though, I get a few snarky yawns: William you have a cushy life. Why so much “needless” struggle? Or, and I love this: William if you want to be in ministry with people, then why don’t you simply stay serving as a pastor? Afterall, you will be “forced” to deal with the world, right?

My question is why is it that we think that we, as serious, orthodox, Bible-loving Christians, are deserving, much less desirous, of lifestyles of cushiness and comfort? I’ve just finished reading a book on my trip by Alex and Brett Harris: Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations. In it they describe the massively popular movement they’ve begun and are nurturing: The Rebelutionary Movement. Teens are known for rediculously low expectations and rediculously high levels of rebellion. They wish to embrace rebellion, a rebellion against the previous sentence. They are encouraging teens (and older folks too, for that matter) to push themselves to apply themselves to big God-dreams, but also big excellence in bringing those dreams to fruition. In order to live this lifestyle, teens will have to rebel against their own deeply entrenched culture of the sloth. Instead of wasting the teen years on pleasure and irresponsibility, they encourage teens to use these valuable years to make mistakes in the pursuit of excellence in the pursuit of accomplishing great things for God–and learning from them.

They beautifully capture many of my entreprenuerial sentiments regarding general church ministry:

A Picture of Life and Leadership at the Worship Center

Rethinking Sacramental Theology

Faith as Entrepreneurial Belief

For Rent

For those many, very many, well-meaning, but haplessly deceived believers who believe comfort is what Jesus underwent an excruciating death to give you and me, ask yourselves what you might be missing out on by your firm commitment to such an idolatrous lifestyle. God has called all of us into the ministry, not simply the people we pay to be spiritual for us inside the “Four Walls” of Fort God. Consider Alex and Brett’s conviction:

Putting the ideas of salt and light together gives countercultural rebelutionaries a clear mission statement: we are change makers who influence our world both as salt and light. That is to say, we influence our world both by fighting against sin, suffering, and decay and by fighting for truth and justice. And that covers a lot.

“There is a misconception among some Christians that to ‘really live for Jesus’ you have to go into the ministry, become a missionary, or marry someone who does. Those are high and noble callings, but to limit our idea of the radical Christian life to just a handful of areas isn’t only wrong, it’s dangerous.

“The Rebelution needs Christians all over the world to be living as salt and light in business, science, medicine, law, politics, home-making and parenting, engineering, education, the arts, and every other field of endeavor. Like Schaeffer said, God’s Word is Truth for all of life–and our unique makeup as individuals allows room for beautiful diversity within a generation committed to doing hard things for the glory of God” (Alex & Brett Harris, Do Hard Things: pp. 173 & 174).

I cannot settle for a baptized comfort, no matter how much the pain of any anxiety I might encounter along the way of spending my life for the propelling of the Name and glory of Jesus. I must be a “rebelutionary” committed to doing hard things for God. A Christianity in the pursuit of comfort may in the end only be Paganism robed in Christian lingo.

February 11, 2010

Wedding Liturgy

Filed under: Ministry,Scriptural Theology,Worship — Faith, Worship & Life @ 6:48 pm
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Below is the liturgy I designed in preparation for the offication of my first wedding service. I believe it is faithful to orthodoxy in both Scripture and Tradition. However, I believe it captures two things that have been lost as of late in both church and society in our world:

  • The covenantal nature of the marriage relationship between the Church and Christ, between the fellow-members of the Church family, between the Church family & the married couple, between Christ and the married couple and between the husband and wife of the married couple.
  • The nature of love is to diligently study the other & the needs thereof and exercise love accordingly.

The Sacrament of Marriage Liturgy 1

 The Sacrament of Marriage

Read Ephesians 5:15-6:9

Homily on “sacrament” and “marriage.”

Sacred Vows

Spoken by the Groom:

In the name of Jesus, I, __________, take you, __________, to be my wife, forsaking all others, to have and to hold from the day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my sacred vow to you.

Spoken by the Bride:

In the name of Jesus, I, __________, take you, __________, to be my husband, forsaking all others, to have and to hold from the day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to respect, until we are parted by death. This is my sacred vow to you.

Spoken Together:

In the name of Jesus, this is our sacred covenant.

Spoken by the Pastor:

__________ and __________, with the authority vested in me I now pronounce you husband and wife. What our great God has joined together, may no man tear apart.

Holy Communion

Spoken by the Pastor:

As their first act as a married couple, __________ and __________ have chosen to celebrate Holy Communion.

Holy Communion, as it is normally practiced in many places, is the celebration of Jesus doing what the sinful individual could never do. However, this is only a very tiny portion of what Holy Communion is about. Jesus not only wants to save individual people and take them to heaven. He wants to transform them into the image of God. What is the image of God but One God, who is eternally Three Persons, who love one another perfectly? When we celebrate Holy Communion we are celebrating the transformational work of God in our lives, which restores in us the capacity to live, to love, in the manner we were originally designed. We celebrate the triumph of Jesus on the Cross over Sin and Satan.

So, Holy Communion is the celebration of the possibility of real, authentic, engaging communion with one another. Holy Communion is also the celebration of communion with God: participation in the life of the Father, Son, and the Spirit.

Read John 14:15-24; 17:20-23

Exchanging of the Rings during Holy Communion

Spoken by the Pastor:

The bread and the juice represent the body and the blood of Jesus, which was spilt for our Sin that we might be reconciled to God; that we might be made holy and whole. It is fitting and appropriate for this couple to exchange a symbol of their covenantal communion during Holy Communion. The ring is a never-ending circle, symbolizing never-ending love, which they will nurture daily. Jesus’s body was broken that we might be set apart from the perishing, rotting, and broken of the world; that we might be made whole with his life. This ring is a tangible reminder that never-ending love is only possible as they are broken and spilt for the true needs of each other daily.

The bread and wine are blessed by the pastor and exchanged by the couple.

Spoken by the Groom:

__________, I give this ring to you as a symbol of my sacred vow. With all that I am, and with all that I have, I make it my lifestyle to honor and cherish you. May we learn to love one another in the manner of our Triune God; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Spoken by the Bride:

__________, I give this ring to you as a symbol of my sacred vow. With all that I am, and with all that I have, I make it my lifestyle to honor and respect you. May we learn to love one another in the manner of our Triune God; in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Prayer over the Newlyweds

As their second official act as a married couple, __________ and __________ would like to be prayed over, as they begin this new and strange journey together.

Designated people may now come up and pray over the newlyweds.

Congregational prayer:

Holy Father we ask you to bless and keep __________ and __________ in your loving, shepherding care. Fill them up to over-flowing with your Holy Spirit. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Pastoral Blessing:

“The LORD bless you and keep you. The LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26; ESV).

“May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:11 & 12; ESV).

Presentation of the Newlyweds

Spoken by the Pastor:

Family and friends, may I now present to you Mr. and Mrs. __________.

Holy Communion Liturgy

Filed under: Ministry,Scriptural Theology,Worship — Faith, Worship & Life @ 6:31 pm
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Below is the Communion liturgy I created almost two years ago. I believe it is faithful to orthodoxy in both Scripture and Tradition. Yet, I have designed it to capture something that I believe has been lost in the traditional Methodist Communion liturgy: the emphasis on holy covenantal community in Holy Communion. We are in holy covenant with our God-Father-Son-Spirit, and we are in holy covenant with our fellow saints. This is the channel of grace, or means of grace, when we celebrate Holy Communion.

Holy Communion Liturgy One

Dark print is for the Congregation, while regular print is for the leader(s).

Welcome to the Table of Jesus. This Table is special, signifying important truths.

We remember our helpless souls, alienated from the life of God and damaged in our relationships with our fellow-man … because of sin … both our own and that committed against us.

We remember the sufferings, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which paid our Sin; whereby we have been reconciled to God and given new life on earth with the transforming and empowering fellowship of the Holy Spirit. We are being made holy and whole, filled to overflowing with Holy Spirit. We have been born anew into the world-wide fellowship of the blood-bought people of God, whose mission is to take the full gospel of Jesus to the world. In this gospel we offer the world his offer of reconciliation of holy-righteousness, and we offer his justice. We offer the world his full salvation.

We remember that Jesus will one day return in final victory to bring about full restoration-salvation to the whole of the Creation. We will live with him forever.

This table is indeed special. By coming to this table, you are choosing to live these truths. You are choosing not only to remember that Jesus died and you will one day go to heaven. You are choosing to fellowship or commune with Jesus by taking up your own cross and following him in the fellowship of his sufferings for the world … in the world. You are also choosing to invest your life in your fellow believers the world over and in our local fellowship. Yet from time to time we sin, trespassing against the glory of Jesus and against one another. In so doing we have broken covenant-faith.

Let us pray: Gracious Jesus, our Savior and Lord, we have been justified before the Father by your blood. Yet we have committed acts that have trespassed against the honor and glory of God. We have sinned. We have committed acts that have trespassed against your people, our brothers and sisters. We have sinned. We have committed acts that have trespassed against people who do not belong to you. We have sinned. We have broken our covenant-faith. Gracious Jesus, our Savior and Lord, we pray you to hear our confessions of sin. We ask your forgiveness.

If we confess our sins …
he is faithful and just …
to forgive us our sins …
and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9; ESV)

Time is given for confessions to God, silently or publicly, and to one another.

In the name of Jesus you are forgiven.
In the name of Jesus you are forgiven.

Let us pray: Gracious, forgiving Jesus, we thank you for your wonderful forgiveness. Our sins are remembered no more. We pray that you would transform us by the power of the Holy Spirit, cleansing our hearts and consciences, continuing to make us into the holy-righteousness of God.

On the night that Jesus was betrayed he took bread and broke it, saying that it was his body broken for us. He took wine and said that it was his blood poured out for the sins of us … and of the world. Thus, we can be reconciled to God. Thus, we can be reconciled to one another … and to people in the world. His broken body and spilt blood can make us holy and whole.

Welcome to the Table of Jesus.
It is the Table of our Savior and Lord.
It is the Table of our sacred covenant-faith.
It is our Holy Communion.

Amen.

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